Editor’s corner: reimagining anniversaries

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Editors’ Note: We publish the editor’s introduction to the November 2021 issue of The Public Historian here. The entire issue is available online to National Council on Public History members and to others with subscription access.

This issue introduces a new ongoing feature, Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the American Revolution, a collaboration between the National Council on Public History (NCPH) and the National Park Service (NPS). Beginning this year and extending to 2025, NCPH and NPS will co-host scholar forums at the annual NCPH conference on themes related to the American Revolution. The annual forums will appear in The Public Historian, and then will be collected in an NPS publication edited by Malgorzata Rymsza-Pawlowska.

From the journal: This painting is “separated into a distinct composition of rectangles, which Smith describes as a reference to the boundaries of the Indian reservations created and enforced by the U.S. government . . . [B]lack organic forms advance and hover over the divided picture plane in pictographs representing a horse, sh, and vase, superimposing the artist’s personal and cultural memories over the divided landscape of Montana. Each canvas is a partitioned mix of memory that includes the darker legacy of cultural contact and conflict, reminding the viewer that each moment of reverie also includes a reference to loss.” From Dallas Art Fair press release, Garth Greenan Gallery, https://www.garthgreenan.com/exhibitions/dallas-art-fair/press-release (Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York City). Cover of The Public Historian, 43.4, November 2021, featuring Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Montana Memories: Aspen, 1989. Oil on canvas. 60 x 50 inches. (Inv# QTSPT052)(Cover Image Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York City). In this issue, see Laurie Arnold and Mikiʻala Ayau Pescaia, “Considering the Revolution: Indigenous Histories and Memory in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Indigenous Plateau,” and Amy Lonetree, “Decolonizing Museums, Memorials, and Monuments,” the inaugural articles of an ongoing feature, Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the American Revolution.

The cover of the November 2021 issue of “The Public Historian” features Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s “Montana Memories: Aspen,” (1989). Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 inches, (Inv# QTSPT052). Cover image credit: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York City.

This year we bring you two essays, both offering Indigenous perspectives on the anniversary of the Revolution. In “Considering the Revolution: Indigenous Histories and Memory in Alaska, Hawai‘i, and the Indigenous Plateau,” Laurie Arnold (Sinixt), director of Native American Studies and associate professor of history at Gonzaga University, and Mikiʻala Ayau Pescaia (Native Hawaiian), chief of interpretation, education and volunteers at Kalaupapa National Historical Park, with input from Maija Katak Lukin (Inupiat), Alaska Native tribal relations program manager, Region 11 Alaska, show that the events of 1776 had little immediate effect on the “multitudes of Indigenous peoples [who] lived beyond the bounds of those conflicts.” Further, as Arnold states, “Despite enormous change wrought by colonialism, 250 years is only one long moment in time on Indigenous homelands peopled for millennia” and asks us to center the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the West, Alaska, and Hawai‘i in understanding the late eighteenth century. In her contribution, Amy Lonetree (Ho-Chunk), associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, examines the complicated process of decolonization, asking, “What does it mean . . . for Indigenous people to reassert their presence and celebrate their survivance in these memoryscapes that have previously celebrated a very one-sided version of history?” Together these essays shift our focus away from the traditional focus on the military and political events in the Northeast, allowing for a more complex and meaningful understanding of the legacy of the Revolution and more nuanced approaches to its commemoration.

In their Report from the Field, “Ephemeral Encounters: Reflections on Representing Jefferson and Native America at the American Philosophical Society,” Margaret M. Bruchac and Diana E. Marsh also consider a Revolutionary-era institution and key figure from an Indigenous perspective. In their examination of the 2016 American Philosophical Society Museum exhibition, Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America, University of Pennsylvania anthropologist and exhibition advisor Bruchac and curator Marsh “reflect on the challenges of interpreting Indigenous heritage and traditional knowledges in materials that have been captured in colonial collections.” They discuss the ways the exhibition succeeded and also consider some of its limitations and omissions. The authors conclude by emphasizing the need for collaboration with Indigenous peoples, writing, “Only by inviting Native American people of the present into all aspects of museum processes—including, but not limited to, the selection, curation, display, and interpretation of objects, texts, and images—can we make progress toward restoring living relationships among past voices and contemporary Indigenous communities.”

Our second Report from the Field, Diana Bell-Kite’s “QuiltSpeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices in the North Carolina Museum of History’s Permanent Collection,” examines how material culture sources can “speak” to us about the lives of those in the past. Although quilts have been featured in several exhibitions in the last several years, most museums interpret them aesthetically, as objects of art. Instead, Bell-Kite used the textiles “as a portal into a woman’s life and a representation of her self-expression,” a way of gaining insight into the lives of women who left few other traces. As she writes, “The quiltmakers featured—women of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and eras—left behind few written records; but they did leave their quilts.” Further, Bell-Kite argues for the importance of looking at a museum’s permanent collection with fresh perspectives in order to gain new interpretative possibilities. As she writes, “By asking new questions of old objects—about makers’ realities, experiences, and intentions—female stories and voices from the past emerge from the likeliest, yet frequently most underutilized, of places—the permanent collection.” Much as Bruchac and Marsh reinterpret archival collections, such as Jefferson’s notes on Indigenous languages, Bell-Kite shows the possibilities of looking at permanent collections for new insights and understandings of the past.

~Sarah H. Case, the editor of The Public Historian, earned her MA and Ph.D. in history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is a continuing lecturer in history, teaching courses in public history, women’s history, and history of the South. She is the author of Leaders of Their Race: Educating Black and White Women in the New South (Illinois, 2017) and articles on women and education, reform, and commemoration.


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